Potchefstroom is an academic city in the North West Province of South Africa. It hosts the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University. Potchefstroom is on the Mooi Rivier, roughly 120 km west-southwest of Johannesburg and 45 km east-northeast of Klerksdorp. The official history of Potchefstroom, written by Prof Gert van den Bergh, accepts the official founding date as 22 December 1838. This is due to a newspaper report that appeared in the ‘The Natal Advertiser’ in 1921 which said “Old Mr Barent Swart, of Klerksdorp, furnished me many years ago with . . . an exact date of its founding. His words were: ‘Oudedorp was proclaimed a dorp on December 22, 1838.” By the time this was written the town was relocated and the first settlement was known as Oudedorp (old town).
Although it has been severely contested, it is generally accepted that Potchefstroom is the oldest town founded by the Voortrekkers north of the Vaal River. Potchefstroom was named after its founder, Andries Potgieter, hence the syllable ‘Pot’ in the name. ‘Stroom’ came from the Mooi River, but about the origin of the ‘chef’ there has been much speculation. It is generally accepted that it was inserted because Potgieter was the leader, chief or ‘chef’ of the Voortrekkers. Another explanation is that people with the surname of Potgieter was nicknamed ‘Potscherf’, an alternative spelling of the name. Combined with ‘stroom’, this was difficult to pronounce and the name later became Potchefstroom instead of Potscherfstroom, which has been used to a certain extent in the early years.
Today Potchefstroom is a thriving city with close to 140 000 residents. It is the home of the Potchefstroom campus of the Northwest University. The Northwest University also has two other campuses, in Mahikeng and Vanderbijlpark. With more than 55 000 students, it is the second largest university in the country. It’s certainly a town worth the visit if you want to have the feeling of real Africa.